When children are able to communicate their needs and feelings effectively, they gain confidence and self-esteem, both of which are essential for developing healthy relationships. Below are 5 powerful ways to help your child develop these essential skills. Feel free to try these yourself to improve your own communication skills!
1. Encourage your child to listen and carefully pay attention to what the other person is saying and doing. Believe it or not, listening is just as important, if not more important, that what is actually said. You might also suggest that your child pay attention to the body language of the other person, and also his own. Studies show that much of our communication is actually non-verbal. Also, when children pay attention to what other children are saying, they are more likely to respond directly to what is being said and to use age-appropriate and socially-appropriate vocabulary.
2. Instill values in your child that you believe are important so that his communication is consistent with them. You can reinforce these values by questioning your child whether his statement is in line with them. For instance, suppose you overhear your child call another child “stupid.” Rather than simply shout to your child to “stop!”, you might also ask him whether his statement showed respect for others – if that is a value that you want your child to have. Younger children may not be able to fully grasp the meaning of the word “respect.” You might therefore offer that “respect” generally means acting in a way that shows that you value the other person and his or her opinions. If you consistently question your child whether his actions show these values, you can teach him to do his own “pause and check” before he acts. This way he can learn to communicate and act in a way that is consistent with his values.
3. Help your child strengthen his conscience, or his internal sense of right and wrong. To do this, you might ask him questions like “what do you think is the right thing to do?” You might also describe your own struggles with what is right or wrong in a given situation. Then encourage your child to communicate and act consistent with what he feels is right.
4. Encourage your child to make direct eye contact when speaking and to speak with a voice that is loud and clear. This shows that he respects what he is saying. The listener is therefore more likely to respect him and to listen.
5. Teach your child to deal swiftly with an emotional issue and to communicate her response directly and effectively. For instance, suppose your daughter is upset about something her friend said. She storms up to her room and begins to cry. You can encourage her to talk about how she feels angry and hurt, perhaps betrayed. Let her express her anger. Then when she’s ready, you can help her strategize some statements she might make to her friend to describe how she feels in a productive and positive way. For instance, she might call her friend immediately and say “when you said X, it made me feel angry and hurt. It made me think that I can’t trust you.” If her friend responds that she “didn’t mean” to hurt her feelings, she can respond “I understand that you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. The fact is that it did. I ask that you please don’t do it again.” Your daughter should be as specific as possible in identifying the hurtful statement or action. This is likely to help her feel more confident and in control of the circumstances and people that she encounters.
Adults, try these too – they really work!